#118 Most Visited National Park Unit
Mesa Verde National Park
Source: NPS, Rank among 378 National Park Units 2019.
Park Size52,216 acres (Federal), 52,485 (Total)
$5 for 7 days. (Off peak)
$8 for 7 days (Memorial Day to Labor Day)
Free - (January to early March)
$10 for 7 days. (Off peak)
$15 for 7 days. (Memorial Day to Labor Day)
Free - (January to early March)
Yearly Mesa Verde Pass
$30 per vehicle/other entry
Mesa Verde WeatherWarm to hot in the day with temperatures reaching into the 90s. Cool nights. Afternoon thunderstorms are common..
Mesa Verde TransportationThere is no transportation within Mesa Verde, outside one special tram tour to the Long House and two bus tours of the park provided by a park concessionaire. These tours can be pricey, $31 to $45 for adults.
For the most part, beyond those examples, you need your own car, rv, truck, or feet to explore the park.
Photo above: Mesa Verde cliff dwelling. Courtesy National Park Service. Right/Below: Historic photo of Mesa Verde cliff dwellings. Courtesy Library of Congress.
Mesa Verde National Park
If you're looking for a great place to let your mind wander back to a time long ago, 600 A.D. or so, then the spectacular mesas and dwellings of the Ancestral Pueblo people perched on the cliffs of Mesa Verde are a good place to start. With dwellings high in the mountains, many which require a climb up ladders, you can imagine the Indian culture that lasted in the area for seven hundred years, and the situation that the inhabitants of these homes lived in. They built these homes for protection. They built these homes for heritage. They built these Colorado homes using the natural wonders of the region in summer and winter, without the need for a heater and worry about middle eastern oil prices.
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Mesa Verde Then
The Pueblo People- They came to the region 1,400 years ago and built these stone palaces to live in, then they left. There are known as Anasazi and during their time in Mesa Verde had left their formerly nomadic life for a life of farming. (Sounds like the women wanted to settle down some.) At the peak of this civilization, several thousand people lived in the Mesa Verde region. Nobody really knows why they left to go back to New Mexico and Arizona; there is no written record.
Mesa Verde Dwellings- There are over 5,000 archaelogical sites within the park. But the most prevalent, or to most visitors, the reason they come to Mesa Verde, are those cliff dwellings. And the odd thing is, that the Indians who made their home in this area, did not build these dwellings for the first six hundred years, waiting until the 1190s to build them. And they'd only live in them for a little over one hundred years.
Photo above: The Balcony House, circa 1890-1900, by Thomas McKee. Courtesy National Park Service. Below: Mesa National Park Visitor Center. Courtesy National Park Service.
Mesa Verde Now
A visit to Mesa Verde National Park, which was established in 1906 by President Theodore Roosevelt, not only takes you back in time, but it allows you to embrace that time. For each rung of the ladders you must climb to get inside some of the sites, (these tours can be strenuous) you get the feeling of what the Indian nations of this region and others lived like, well before the European settlers came into the area and discovered them again. The photo of Cliff House, circa 1918, show just one view of the precarious nature of these historic dwellings.
There's a whole lot to do at Mesa Verde, what with all this history and the recreation of the lands which surrounds it. And while it may not be huge like the Grand Canyon and its over 1 million acres, there are 52,000 acres to explore, within the pueblos (there are 600 of them) and beyond. Camp, hike, fish, and explore the culture that dominated, or really augmented the lands of the west for hundreds of years in a setting so powerful, you'll actually want to try it for a while. Well, until you feel the need for a mall, at least. But who'd want to do that instead of visiting this amazing UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Although Mesa Verde is not near the top of the Rocky Mountains, it certainly is still high, nearing 8,572 feet at its highest point, called Park Point. One interesting note ... In later days, the Ute tribe lived in the Mesa Verde area, but did not live in the cliff dwellings.
The Cliffhouses - Six hundred of them that were used as dwellings. You can explore some on your own, or go on ranger guided tours of Cliff Palace, Balcony House, and Long House. There is a $3 fee for those tours. The rest don't require the fee, including Step House and Spruce Tree House.
T-Shirts and Souvenirs
Mesa Verde National Park T-Shirts and Souvenirs. Great for nature, national park, and Indian heritage history fans.
Things You Should Not Miss
1. Although it's a bit pricier than the other day time tours, a unique view of Cliff Palace can be had in the twilight tour for $10. Make reservations ahead of time for that as only 20 people can go on that tour during any day. Price subject to change.
2. Take the Mesa Top Loop Road. It's six miles with a variety of paved walking trails that extend off it to interesting sites and beautiful vistas.
3. Drive to the Chapin Mesa Archaelogical Center and take in the 25 minute film. It explains in grand detail the culture of the people who inhabited the areas you will visit.
Photo above: One of the creatures who did not leave the cliff dwelling area over the centuries and still lives there, a yellow-headed collared lizard. Courtesy National Park Service.
What's There Now
Far View Visitor Center - Open early April to late October from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m (7 p.m. during the peak season). There are exhibits, a restaurant, and gift shop here, plus you can find out more about ranger guided talks and tours, plus buy tickets for those that require it. The visitor center is located 15 miles inside the park entrance.
Morefield Ranger Station - Open late May to mid-August from 5 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.
Chapin Mesa Archaelogical Center - Open year round from 9 a.m. to 4:30, with extended hours during the peak season. Located 20 miles inside the park, there is a 25 minute film and exhibits on the Ancestral Pueblo culture. There is also a snack bar here, plus this is the area of Spruce Tree House, which can be visited with a self-guided tour.
Colorado Welcome Center in Cortez - Open early April to mid-November from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. (peak season 6 p.m., with shorter hours during some days)
Protecting Mesa Verde
The cliffhouses of Mesa Verde are historic treasures. Whether you are exploring the area on your own or on a ranger guided tour, please treat these treasures with kindness and protect them for future generations to see and explore.
Lodging and Camping
Lodging - Far View Lodge is located 15 miles inside the park near the visitor center. It has 150 rooms and is open from mid-April through most of October. The rooms are not cheap, but are within the usual range of rates for lodging within national parks.
Camping - Mesa Verde National Park has one large campground, Morefield Campground, with 267 sites, that is usually pretty open to first come campers. Some full service hookups may requrie an advanced reservation, however. Check with the park for open dates. Regular season is mid-May to mid-October with some primitive camping available from mid-April. During the peak season, there are evening programs within the campground. The campground is located between the entrance to the park and the Far View Visitor Center.
Other Campgrounds/Lodging - Cortez, Colorado is located about an hour (30 miles) from the park, and Durango, Colorado (56 miles) about an hour and one half. Both towns have a variety of hotels, motels, and bed and breakfasts for you to choose from. There are two campgrounds close to the park off Route 160; Mesa Verde RV Resort, and A&A Mesa Verde RV Park Resort.
Photo above: Far View House. Check out the lodging choices at your favorite online lodging choice, or contact the local or state visitors bureau.
Trails at Mesa Verde
The Trails - Although much of Mesa Verde is restricted and hiking done on designated trails, there are a lot of interesting hikes. Some of the most used.
Prater Ridge Trail (Morefield Campground) - 7.8 miles.
Knife Edge Trail (Morefield Campground) - 2.0 miles.
Point Lookout Trail (Morefield Campground) - 2.2 miles.
Petroglyph Point Trail (Chapin Mesa) - 2.4 miles.
Spruce Canyon Trail (Chapin Mesa) - 2.4 miles
Soda Canyon (Chapin Mesa) - 1.2 miles.
Farming Terrace (Chapin Mesa) - 0.5 miles
Northernskiold Site #16 Trail (Wetherill Mesa)- 1 mile
Photo above: Farming terrace with check dams in Mesa Verde National Park. Courtesy National Park Service.
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Photos courtesy of the Library of Congress, National Archives, National Park Service, americasbesthistory.com and its licensors.